Anatomy of Story Collaboration (SPOILER ALERT)

sneak 8cThis is one of my favorite pages from my comic The Army of Dr. Moreau #4, even though half of the page was never in the original script. In the initial script, only the second and fourth panels were in the story. Since the beginning, I’ve given Carl Sciacchitano (the artist) as much creative freedom as possible. While doing layouts for this issue, he expanded the sequence from the previous page, and carried part of the action over to the next page. At the same time, he included two new panels, the first and the third, which he felt added a bit more character to the story and resonance to the death of McNally (I told you there were spoilers). He ran all of this by me before fully committing to drawing it, and I agreed with his choices. The problem was the dialog for the first and third panel didn’t exist, because neither had been in the original script. Writing dialog for the first panel was no problem, but the third panel was difficult, especially because the original dialog for the second panel had been meant to end the scene. Honestly, I wrote at least three versions of that third panel, which when you really study it, is a scene in and of itself. All the earliest dialog was garbage—it merely reinforced the action. “Gotta get this grave dug.” “Make sure you get the rest of his ammo.” That sort of stuff. Carl felt there needed to be more to this scene, and he drew it, but I was at a loss for how to give it more character. Then it struck me—I needed to have the characters say what they were thinking.

sneak 8eBy changing the dialog to something connected to what they were thinking, as opposed to what they were doing, I could give more life to Hadley and Beckett. This led me to change the dialog in the second panel, which had already been written, but needed a change of tone and meaning, and helped to shape the dialog of the fourth panel. This issue, and the overall story is much better, thanks to the collaboration with Carl.

The Army of Dr. Moreau is published digitally by Monkeybrain Comics, and is available exclusively through Comixology.

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Does Anyone REALLY Care About Diversity in Comics? (a.k.a Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothin’)

black comics 1I’m starting to feel like I’m going crazy—as if there is something seriously wrong with me—when the sad truth of the matter is that it is not me at all. It is you. And by “you” I don’t necessarily mean you, the person reading this, but I do mean someone other than myself—the crazy person running around pointing out the truth that You (though not necessarily you) don’t want to face. And the truth that I’m talking about is the simple fact that for all the complaining about the lack of diversity in comics—specifically as it relates to black creators—You don’t really want diversity. Instead, You want to sit around, writing blog posts and articles and leaving comments here and there about how few black creators are working in comics, and how You are so righteously indignant to the plight of struggling black creators who aren’t being given a chance to work for major corporations like Marvel (owned by Disney) and DC (owned by Warner Brothers).

A few days ago, Bleeding Cool ran a piece by someone named Devon Sanders entitled “Blood On The Tracks: Where Are The New Black Comics Writers?” Now, to be honest, I don’t know Devon Sanders, nor do I have an ax to grind against this particular writer, but this heartfelt commentary on the lack of black writers in the comic industry, though well intentioned, is the type of lazy—and dare I say irresponsible—“journalism” that does little to serve black creators. I say this with supreme confidence because, despite what some people would call my hi-yella complexion and talks-like-a-white-guy vocal inflections, I am, in fact, a black person. And I write comics. And I, along with a significant number of other creators are not mentioned in this article.

Sanders starts the article talking about how DC fired all of their two black writers in 2012, leaving no black writers at the home of Superman and Batman. Sanders then goes on to write:

Let that sink in; in one day, 100% of black writers working for a major entertainment corporation were let go. Neither has worked for DC Comics much, if not at all, since.
Marvel, at the time, had none to fire.
Dark Horse, Boom and others didn’t either.

Some of this is true. At the time, between DC and Marvel, there were no black writers working at the two biggest publishers in American comics. Off the top of my head, I don’t know if there were any black writers or artists working for Boom in 2012. But at Dark Horse? Well, let’s see…Sanford Greene was working on Rotten Apple, and if Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander hadn’t started Concrete Park yet, they were just about to. And then there was a little book called Number 13. I know this book well, because I co-wrote it along with the artist, Robert Love, who is also black. Robert recently wrapped another book for Dark Horse called Never Ending, and he was still black when he worked on it, even though no one bothered to mention it. I know, five measly comic creators many of you have never heard of doesn’t amount to much. But you know what? It amounts to more than Devon Sanders’s piece in Bleeding Cool mentions. And it amounts to more than the vast majority of other There’s-No-Diversity-In-Comics rants and raves ever bother to mention.

black comics 2Look, I’m not trying to pick on Devon Sanders. Devon, for all I know, you’re a great human being. But let’s face it, you and a bunch of other well-minded critics have done a half-ass job of addressing the issue of diversity in comics. And if what I’m saying is infuriating or hurtful, put yourself in the shoes of Jimmie Robinson, Rob Guillory, Kevin Grevioux, and Brandon Thomas. Who are they? Well, they are among the black comic creators that are almost never mentioned whenever some critic decides to write about how there are no black creators in the industry. And though I’m not speaking for any of them (though I’m sure some of them would agree with me), I know how it feels to be marginalized as a black comic creator. It feels a bit like being marginalized as a black person, except every time it happens, you’re reading some article filled with righteous indignation that says you don’t exist (which is more often than not written by someone who themselves has probably been marginalized).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—the American comic book industry is plagued by racism. This is not news. Racism plagues every facet of this country. No, Marvel and DC don’t have enough black creators (writers or artists), but neither does the film industry, the television industry, and just about everything else short of most professional sports (and even then, the teams aren’t owned by black people). But when it comes to comics, and let’s be honest, most of You only want to talk about Marvel and DC, there is NEVER (all caps for emphasis) going to be black creators working regularly unless You start supporting creators working at companies like Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Monkeybrain, Lion Forge Comics, or who are self-publishing.

The comic industry works a lot like professional sports teams. Seldom do you see a player drafted to the NBA, NFL, or MLB that hasn’t proven themselves either in high school, college, or a minor league team. Look at some of the biggest names in comics—Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Kelly-Sue DeConnick, Ed Burbaker, Matt Fraction—all of them started out in the indie world or self-publishing, or both. They proved themselves, built a fan base, got support from critics and retailers, and in time, the big publishers decided they were ready to be called up to the “major” leagues.

If any black creators are going to get work from Marvel or DC (especially black writers) it is going to take the committed support of fans, critics, retailers, all working to build them up. But it seems that instead, most of You are more concerned with why there’s no black writers churning out corporate schlock at DC, where there will never be a level of diversity or creative freedom to make You (or me for that matter) even remotely not pissed off. DC is NEVER (again, all caps for emphasis) going to do right by the Milestone characters. And even if Marvel hired me personally to write and revamp Falcon, I’d never be given the freedom to make the character truly interesting, because Disney wouldn’t allow it.

Instead of wishing that Disney and Warner Brothers would deliver us, the marginalized, from our state of white-washed underrepresentation, it is time for You to start looking elsewhere for your dream fulfillment. Check out a series like Watson & Holmes from New Paradigm. Earlier this month,  Watson & Holmes swept the Glyph Awards at ECBACC, and is now waiting to see how it does at the upcoming Eisner Awards in July. With less than ten issues published so far, Watson & Holmes has featured great work by black creators like Brandon Easton, N Steven Harris, Karl Bollers, and Larry Stroman, and promises to feature the work of more creators like Hannibal Tabu. And instead of saying that there are no black creators, maybe it is time for You to check out the work of all the people I’ve mentioned above, as well as Dawud Anyabwile, Enrique Carrion, Ken Lashley, Grey Williamson, Mshindo Kuumba, Ezra Claytan Daniels, Jamal Igel, Alexander Simmons, Ray-Anthony Height, Spike Trotman, Jennifer Cruté, and all the other creators I’m not listing (my apologies, brothas and sistas).

As a final note, at the end Devon Sanders’s piece on Bleeding Cool, Sanders evokes the name of the late great Dwayne McDuffie, basically saying that there have been very few black writers since McDuffie’s untimely passing. Having been lucky enough to know Dwayne during his life, I think it is safe to say that he would be one of the first people to prattle off all the names of creators I’ve listed, and at least a dozen more. Dwayne knew what I know, which is the same thing many other creators know…there are black people making comics. The problem is that You and so many others aren’t paying attention, which seems to prove a much larger point—no one really cares about diversity in comics.

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Summer Reading Sale

summer sale 2014Order your copy of Super Justice Force between now and August 31, 2014, and get 25% off the cover price. Click HERE or the image above, and then enter discount code XFZND49.

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BECOMING BLACK – an excerpt

banner 2Here is an excerpt from my collection of essays, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture. This the first paragraph from an essay entitled “Racism 2.0.”

After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, racism went away. The election of the first Black President of the United States magically transformed America into something known as “post-racial.” It was truly spectacular to witness, as centuries of racial ideology went away, or reversed itself, or whatever it was that happened when American became post-racial, and this country was transformed into an idyllic nation of equality. Unfortunately, if you blinked, you would have missed this incredible turn of events, and in turn you would not have noticed a split second later, when America ceased being post-racial, and returned to its old racial ideologies with so much fury and speed that it seemed like racism may have gotten a bionic upgrade. Indeed, after America’s brief flirtation with being post-racial, which again, lasted for all of one or two seconds, we all woke up to what I affectionately like to call “Racism 2.0.”

And this is the last paragraph of the same essay.

In the end, as we look at the concept of race in this country—a concept that has sadly spread across the globe—we see that America is a nation that has traded its humanity for personal and economic gain. People of color were robbed of their humanity to justify these gains, while White people traded their humanity to make these gains. This is what happened during slavery, and it continues today wherever people are being oppressed, exploited and, in some cases, killed for the sake of riches. And no matter where any of us lands on the racial spectrum, we all must come to terms with our culpability in this on-going process of weighing human life against the accumulation of wealth. It has left us diseased and broken, and the collective unwillingness to look at what has happened to us brings with it nothing more than the promise of our continued dehumanization.

To read “Racism 2.0″ in its entirety, please check out Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture.

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Watch This!!! THE DAY THEY RAN OUT OF BULLETS

bulletsposter-2Here’s a short film that I directed, The Day They Ran Out of Bullets. Watch it for free.

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Without Shame – THE PRIVATE EYES

private eyesHere we have another movie that I am not ashamed to admit that I saw when it in the theater. I have very little memory of The Private Eyes, starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts, other than a scene where they are standing in horse poop. I saw this as a double feature with Oh, Heavenly Dog, starring Chevy Chase and Benji. I don’t remember that film either, although I do recall liking The Private Eyes much more. In fact, I saw The Private Eyes twice.

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blaxploitation archive – COUNTDOWN AT KUSINI (a.k.a. COOL RED)

cool redWithin the ranks of black films of the 1970s, there are a handful of titles that remain shrouded with an air of mystery. These are the “lost” films of the blaxploitation, of which there are two distinct types. The first type of lost blaxploitation film are those that have never been officially released on home video, but have still managed to find a home on bootleg videos. Films like Melinda and The Legend of Nigger Charley, though never having had any sort of authorized release, can be found on DVD. But then there’s the other type of lost film that is truly lost. These are the ones that have never turned up on video in any way, and in some cases have not been seen since their original release. Perhaps the most famous of these lost films is director Ossie Davis’s Countdown at Kusini (a.k.a. Cool Red), a movie with an interesting history, that has remained largely unseen since its initial release in 1976.

Best known for his role as Barney Collier on the television series Mission: Impossible, Greg Morris stars as Red Salter, an American jazz musician working in Nigeria. Red is trying to make time with Leah Matanzima (Ruby Dee), who is working with a group of rebels trying to liberate the fictional nation of Fahari. Leah recruits Red to help smuggle Ernest Motapo (Ossie Davis), the leader of the revolutionary army, out of Nigeria and into Fahari. Motapo is being hunted by mercenary Ben Amed (Tom Aldredge), who has been hired by a powerful corporation that has been oppressing the people of Fahari, and stripping the nation of its natural resources. Though he is reluctant to get too heavily involved, Red soon finds himself fighting along with Motapo and the rebels to liberate their homeland from its colonialist oppressors.

Coming along as the popularity of blaxploitation was crashing and burning, Countdown at Kusini was conceived and produced as something of an alternative to what was often seen as a largely negative genre. To be certain, a great many of the films produced and marketed to black audiences in the 1970s were mired in negativity, as well as hampered by low budgets and inferior production values. Although it sought to put forth a more positive, empowering, and politically provocative message than the other films being churned—especially those being churned out toward the tail end of the cycle—Countdown at Kusini suffers from the same budgetary and production value issues found in some of the more notoriously bad blaxploitation films. But because the film has been barely seen since coming out in 1976, it has become regarded as something of a lost classic—the assumption being that it is probably a decent film (never mind the fact that the film received mostly negative reviews). The sad truth of the matter is that though the backstory of how and why Countdown at Kusini was made (a story I will get into in my upcoming book), the movie itself isn’t very good. It stops short of being truly bad, though it teeters dangerously close to the edge of cliff of being bad.

countdownThe victim of a very limited budget, and a long list of production woes incurred while shooting in Nigeria, Countdown at Kusini starts out promising as politically charged assault on colonialism in Africa. But the film quickly falls apart, weighed down by a flimsy, poorly developed screenplay, with even more poorly developed characters. Best known as an actor, Ossie Davis helped launch blaxploitation as the director of Cotton Comes to Harlem and highly under-rated Gordon’s War. Davis co-wrote, co-produced, and directed Countdown at Kusini, which is probably the main reason people have been willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, it isn’t deserving of any assumptions of greatness, because, quite honestly, there is no greatness to be found. Though it is clear the budget is limited, neither Davis, nor director of photography, Andrew Laszlo (The Warriors, First Blood) seem to be able to give the film any sense of style or energy. The result is a flat, lifeless script that looks equally flat and lifeless, shot primarily in medium shots that betray the film as having been shot as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, quick and efficient aren’t always what a movie needs, especially when the script itself is lacking.

Despite everything working against it, Countdown at Kusini does have moments that work. Most notably, the film manages to pull itself together for a satisfying climax that constitutes the most well crafted portion of the film. The rest of the film, however, is not that well crafted or nearly as compelling. The film earns points for its anti-colonialist message, but other films have handled that subject matter much better, including director Valerio Zurlini’s poorly titled 1968 film Black Jesus (a.k.a. Seated at His Right), starring Woody Strode, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle of Algiers. Even during its best moments, Countdown at Kusini can’t hold its own against other like-minded films.

NOTE: For those wondering how I managed to see Countdown at Kusini, the short version is that I was able to view it through the UCLA Film Archive while researching my upcoming book—Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted. I will go more in depth into the history of the film itself in the book.
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blaxploitation archive – WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES

welcome_home_brother_charles
BAMF’s Blaxploitation Archive is a collection of reviews originally written in the 1990s that appeared in the pages of BadAzz MoFo. This review and many others have been reprinted and collected in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of Blaxploitation, Volume One, which is now available for purchase.

WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES 1975 (a.k.a Soul Vengeance) 1975 director: Jamaa Fanaka; starring: Marlo Monte
They say that seeing is believing. Well, Welcome Home Brother Charles has to be seen to be believed. If there is a fine line that separates high art from cheap exploitation, writer, producer, director Jamaa Fanaka straddles it like a circus high wire act, teetering from one side to the other, but always managing to maintain his precarious balance.

Our story begins when our main man Charles (Monte), a two-bit criminal, is busted by some sadistic cops who attempt to castrate him. After serving three years in prison for a crime he didn’t actually commit, Charles returns home, vowing to never deal dope again, and live on the straight and narrow. There is one major exception, however, to Charles’ new found law abiding life style. It seems Brother Charles has got some plans to serve up a serious helpin’ of payback to all those involved in his wrongful stint in the joint.

The quest for revenge takes Welcome Home Brother Charles down a path that results in the most outrageous plot twist ever conceived in the history of film. And by “the most outrageous plot twist ever conceived in the history of film,” what I really mean to say is, “the most outrageous plot twist ever conceived in the history of film.” At first I wasn’t going to divulge what this totally insane thing was, but since everyone who has ever written about this movie spills the beans, I don’t see why I should be any different. Besides, you won’t believe what you’re about to read anyway…

Charles, it seems, has developed the amazing ability to make his penis grow up to fifteen feet long. Maintaining total control of his anaconda-like joint, he then uses his penis to strangle his enemies as if it were a snake. That’s right; he uses his penis to strangle his enemies. You did not just read it wrong. He uses his manhood to kill the evil whiteys.

Produced as a student film while at UCLA, Welcome Home Brother Charles served as an appropriate introduction to Jamaa Fanaka’s work. Fanaka, the man who brought us the classic Penitentiary series, and after whom the term “Fanakaesque” was coined, has created one of the most standout works of the blaxploitation era with this meditation on whitey’s futile attempt to destroy black male sexuality. Crude and amateurish at times, there is a raw, visceral energy to Brother Charles that is only found in a select few films. The first three quarters of this film is as brutal, and hardcore as most people claim Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is. But for my money, Welcome Home Brother Charles is a better flick. While it may be rough around the edges, it is still easier to watch than Van Pebble’s film, not to mention more entertaining.

Keep in mind that Welcome Home Brother Charles is available on video as Soul Vengeance, it’s more commonly used name. This is a must see film. And keep the remote control handy, ‘cause you’re gonna wanna rewind to see that huge schlong snakin’ across the floor on it’s way to choke the life out of an evil ofay.

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Without Shame – THEY CALL ME BRUCE?

theycallmebruceThis is the start of a new series of posts (which I will inevitably not post that regularly), called Without Shame. Quite simply, this is a chronicle of movies that I actually saw in the theater when they came out—movies I should ashamed to admit I’ve seen. First up: They Call Me Bruce?, the 1982 comedy starring Johnny Yune. Saw this at the old Broadway Theater in Portland. Watched it twice. Haven’t seen it since.

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Project Update – MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED, & SHAFTED

macked book 1 LOW RESLate last year I announced a new project, Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted, a book covering this history of blaxploitation (that takes its name from my documentary of the same title). Several people have been asking about the book, wanting to know things like if it was a reprint of old material from BadAzz MoFo, and when it would be out. Well, I’ve been slowly and steadily working on the book for several months (in between other various projects), and my self-imposed publishing deadline is February 2015. Yes, I know, releasing a book dealing with black history during Black History Month is a bit of a cliche, but I prefer to think of it as being traditionalist. So, hopefully that answers the questions of when. There will be a crowdfunding campaign (most likely Indiegogo) that will launch in the next few months. As for whether or not the book will reprint old material from BadAzz MoFo…the answer is, “No, it will not.” The vast majority of the stuff written for BadAzz MoFo is more than a decade old, and I’m capable of better writing. More important, the subject matter deserves better writing and more attention than I gave it in the past. There may be some basic stuff I pull from older reviews, but the bulk of Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted will be new material (or at least heavily edited from its original version). The book will include an incredibly in-depth historical examination of blaxploitation, extended reviews of key films, and some cool material that I’m still putting together, but want to keep as a secret for now. If you want my old reviews, check out the Blaxploitation Archive, which over the next few months will post nearly all of my old reviews. Or if you prefer, buy some back issues of BAMF.

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